THE NEW ESTABLISHMENT Day Four: The River Set Richard Rogers's waterside cafe is the hangout of the hip and powerful

OUR SERIES ON THE PEOPLE JOCKEYING FOR INFLUENCE IN THE LATE NINETIES

Share
Related Topics
The Groucho still has its admirers, the waiting-list for the Garrick stretches into the next century, White's, Brooks, Pratts and the Arts stumble on from year to year. But clubland is not what it was. Members and staff go through the motions. But the adrenalin funk of power and influence has departed.

It has fetched up in deepest Hammersmith, at a starkly modern restaurant carved out of an old warehouse overlooking the Thames, called the River Cafe, which is owned and run by Richard (now Lord) Rogers,(right) the architect who designed the Lloyd's Building and the Pompidou Centre, and his American wife, Ruth.

Relishing the fashionable discomfort, the rich and famous troop into the steel, glass and stripped-wood ambience of the restaurant where they can pay pounds 80 per head for the cucina rustica, the elaborately simple Italian peasant cooking in which the place specialises. Lucian Freud is a regular. David Bowie, Harold Pinter, Steve Martin and the noted Garrick Club reject Jeremy Paxman, are often seen savouring the organic vegetables and the best extra virgin olive oil, and indulging the amiable bumblings of the floppy-haired boys with big chins who wait on table.

But the River Cafe is more than just another trendy restaurant. It is on the way to becoming London's most important salon and talking shop and hang-out for power-brokers as well. It could become the city's most significant modern club.

Its profile was given a sharp upward thrust in April when Tony Blair, at a public meeting on London's future, came out as a fan of modern architecture. With Britain's modernist icons, Rogers and Sir Norman Foster, on either side, Blair declared that London "needs a galvanising vision of its future. People should be able to look back at the architectural achievements of our time." When the meeting was over, it was a toss-up whether Tony and Cherie would unwind in Sir Norm's Battersea penthouse or a little further west at Roger and Ruthie's. Roger and Ruthie won the day.

What fresh-faced young moderniser could turn such an invitation down? It's not just the glittering guest list, the Yentobs and Serotas and Jaggers and Geldofs, which give it a special appeal. It's the presence of Rogers himself, for whose architectural office the restaurant functions as staff canteen (they get a discount). This intensely political figure, a grimacing, mumbling, rock-faced dyslexic, 18 going on 65 in appearance, who dresses like an early Sixties jazz fan (red socks with everything), has, by his vigorous, relentless campaigning, made the governance of London and the revival of the Thames into burning political issues.

Without necessarily willing it, Lord and Lady Rogers (as their friends will be expressly forbidden to describe them) have reinvented the London club for the late Nineties. The charm of the clubs of St James's is a tissue of ambiguities: grandeur and shabbiness, dignity and intimacy, strictly observed table manners but nursery food. Members go there to swank it up, but part of the treat is that once inside you can behave as you would at home, or worse. Slump in an armchair with the paper. Get soggily drunk without exciting comment. Toss your watch to the man on the door and tell him to wind it, there's a good chap.

River Cafe plays similar games with expectation and propriety. It's notoriously expensive but disarmingly laid-back. The food has been praised to the skies, but you can never be sure what you're going to get, because, as Ruth Rogers said recently, "We change the menu twice a day by looking in the fridge and seeing what's there." Richard Rogers is a passionate enemy of the motor car, but it's almost impossible to get there any other way. When you arrive, there's nowhere to park - but the hairy guy in the Dracula cloak at the door will park it for you, which gives you the illusion you've been transported to Los Angeles, car capital of the world.

The edge the River Cafe has on any other such gathering place is that it is animated by ideas, electric with Rogers's prowling, lupine presence as he moves from table to table, pouncing on the rich and influential. In the New Yorker in July, Adam Gopnik described the cafe's dominant notion as the "century-old William Morris-to-Reyner Banham sensibility, which insists that faith in common sense, clean lines, English river air and imported Mediterranean folk culture will make England young again."

This may seem a rarefied proposition for a party reared on the dripping sandwiches of Labourism. But it's intoxicating, it's hip, and the new establishment is knocking it back.

Tomorrow: media types

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Several police officers walk near downtown Ottawa  

Nigel Farage on the Ottawa shooting: It could just as easily happen on the streets of London

Nigel Farage
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?